Sunday, 30 December 2012

Hello from Korea

I am on my first visit to Korea, experiencing the cold winter.  I have taken the opportunity to travel whenever conditions are right. The temperature two days ago was at -2 degree Celcius. At night the temperature can drop to -16 degree Celcius. It is really cold and I have to wear several  layers of clothing and wrap myself up from head to toe each time I walk out.

I spent the night in Yong Pyong, a ski resort, then Mount Sorak Resort. I tried my first ski lesson. I did not know that ski shoes were so heavy and felt like the iron man walking around. I very gingerly manouvered myself on the skis and it is an interesting experience.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Year End Reflections

As 2012 draws to a close, how many of us do sit down and reflect on the year gone by? Do you give yourself a report card for your achievements, successes and failures? Do you have a goal post which you have set to gauge how near or far you are from your personal goals? Do you have a vision of how far more you have to go? And where you are going?

Taj Mahal India 2011
Every moment that we are alive is a treasure full of hope. Sometime during the year, we may have run into difficult situations where we feel hopeless that things will  ever turnaround or feel overwhelmed by problems which we do no know how to resolve. Yet, we are still here, ushering in another year. In the words of a friend who succumbed to cancer, how wonderful it is to be alive!

Betong May 2012
Life is not easy. I have known that since I was old enough to remember. I have had my share of tough times. There have been times when it seemed almost insurmountable. Yet, the difficulties have shaped me.  I recognise the immense suffering in this world. And I also recognise how crucial our own attitudes are, in creating our own happiness. No one is spared of suffering. The question to ask ourselves is what we learn from that suffering and how it can be used to benefit others.

Many Chinese families make money their foremost priority. Rightly so, because we need to survive. Beyond that, does money override parental and sibling relations? Is it worth sacrificing our health and mental wellbeing over? Is money a measure of how much we love our parents or children? The more we give them, the more we love them? Or is it just a replacement for love and devotion?

Gaden Monastery, Mundgod 2012
I have been faced with issues of life and death this year, with my parents failing health and hospitalisation, Chang's death and the birth of this blog. I worried over losing my parents. Yet, life and death is a fact we cannot escape from.

What counts is what we do in the present moment. As each year comes to a close, I will ask myself whether I am  more peaceful and happier than the last. It is said that our inner world is reflected in our outer world. If there is turmoil within us, then there will most certainly be turmoil in our external world as well.  If we are peaceful people inside, we will most likely attract peaceful people into our lives.

I wish you a time of reflection as you usher in 2013. And a New Year of Peace, Health and Happiness.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas !!


Wishing all  Christian readers and friends a very Merry Christmas!

I always look forward to the year end festivities because I like the air of merry making and fun. I also enjoy shopping around this time because the shopping malls are beautifully decorated and clothes are more glamorous. I hope it will be a joyful occasion for everyone!

Sunday, 23 December 2012


I first laid eyes on her on Wesak Day in 2010. She was a cute and adorable 2 month old baby with big, black expressive eyes. When the caretaker held her and placed her on my daughter's lap, she was enthralled. My husband, cat lover was not amused. He was very sure of what he did not want. It took us, mother and daughter a long time to talk him into bringing the baby home.

The baby whom my daughter named Oreo, is her good natured, expressive  and playful dog. My daughter was heartbroken after her stray cat, Pansy died and she wanted a dog as a replacement. Because I grew up with dogs around the compound, I wanted my daughter to enjoy the same experience. In my growing up years,  I have found them to be a source of comfort. They are responsive and expressive and somehow able to sense my moods. 

I decided to adopt a dog because there are already too many unwanted canines needing homes. Besides hoping to teach my daughter responsibility and compassion toward animals, I decided to give a stray, a home. For this reason, I did not want to select any particular breed but to take a suitable one that comes along. I personally disagree with the commercial breeding of dogs which has caused so much  suffering.

Oreo was a stray in a litter of 6 puppies and was placed out for adoption. Her mother was also a stray. Yesterday, she was injured when we were out shopping in the afternoon. We received a call from our neighbour who reported that Oreo tried to climb over the fence in desperation after some thunder and lightning. Her hind paws suffered cuts after they became stuck and bled quite a bit. Our good neighbour came over with pliers to help her. 

We took her to the vet who cleaned her up and gave her 2 injections. I held her throughout the procedure and she was very well behaved. She looked into my eyes seeking to understand and we comforted her. Her paws have been bandaged and she is wearing a cone around her neck. She has to be fed antibiotics twice a day and her bandage changed daily. I am glad Oreo survived. It could have been worse. Nonetheless, I am rather worried about her as she seems to have been traumatised by loud sounds recently.

Yes, my husband is indeed right. She does require a fair amount of work and my plate is full. I have pondered over this. I think any form of non-monetary contribution to others require us to set aside our time and put in some effort. But is that not the point of giving? To draw away from our basically self-centred approach to life and include others less fortunate than us, even if it is for a minute? The beauty of giving is that it never leaves us, the giver, untouched. And Oreo has given us back in intangible ways which cannot be measured.

I hope we have been fair to her by taking her in. Though she has a home, we are nevertheless busy people. She runs around the compound and we take her for walks when we have the time. We love you, Oreo. You deserve love and care,  just as we humans do.


Thursday, 20 December 2012

Winter Solstice Festival

We celebrate Winter Solstice (Dongzhi Festival) tomorrow. When I was young, I used to prepare the tangyuan or glutinous rice balls for my family. It was my yearly duty rolling the red and white coloured dough into small round balls for the family. I would make a batch of  white ones, another batch of red ones for prayers and a mix of red and white coloured ones for fun.

After I finished rolling, I would throw them into a pot of boiling water to cook them. My mother would then use them to make a sweet dessert of tangyuan in sugar water flavoured with pandan leaves and ginger. My father, however, loved them in a savoury soup of meat and seafood. We would have them for our lunch. I loved it too.

Though I looked forward to this yearly festival, my parents never did share what Winter Solstice was all about. So, I associated it with eating tangyuan and a special feast for dinner. My mother said that after eating tangyuan, I became a year older but I could not see why. I think it is quite a shame not to know the history behind our rich Chinese culture and traditions. Over time and with the younger generation, more and more is lost if we do not make an effort to impart to our children.

The Winter Solstice is the day when the distance between the Tropic of Capricorn and the sun is the shortest. Because of the earth's tilt, the Northern Hemisphere is leaning farther away from the sun than at any other time during the year. This makes the Winter Solstice the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere. The Northern hemisphere on this day experiences the shortest daytime and longest nighttime and marks the arrival of winter. The Chinese characters for Dōng Zhì are 冬至. The first character means “winter” and the second character means “arrival.”   In traditional Chinese society, the arrival of winter meant that the farmers would lay down their tools and celebrate the harvest by coming home to their families. A feast would be prepared to mark the occasion.

Also, because ancient cultures were unaware of the changes in the Earth's position, they feared that the sunlight would never return. To bring it back, they engaged in many celebrations and ceremonies. In fact, there are more ceremonies and "rituals associated with the winter solstice than any other time of year" .

Traditionally, the Dongzhi Festival is also a time for the family to get together. The glutinous rice balls symbolize reunion. The festive food is also a reminder that we are now a year older and should behave better in the coming year. Even today, many Chinese around the world, especially the elderly, still insist that one is "a year older" right after the Dongzhi celebration instead of waiting for the Chinese New Year.

I will be celebrating with my parents and siblings. As my parents are now old, the grand feast has been replaced with packed restaurant food as the younger generation is too busy to cook. Maybe that is the price of progress.

Monday, 17 December 2012


As human beings, it is difficult not to have any expectations. From the time we are babies, we start to have expectations. When we cry, we expect to be responded to. If we fail to get any attention, we wail even louder.

Trouble brews when expectations are not met. It is said that the difference between what should be and what is,  is where sadness comes from. It is true that if we do not manage our expectations, we set ourselves up for disappointment. However, is it possible to live with no expectations at  all? Imagine having no expectation of how that steaming cup of coffee would taste like as you bring it to your lips? Or have no expectation of how your latest Ipad would perform.

I have seen how shattered parents have been when their children fail to live up to their expectations. And terminally ill patients who cannot accept that their spouses do not support them in the manner they expect. It is said that having expectations is the source of our problems. Yet, is it unreasonable to expect that your spouse would take care of you when you are sick? Or that your children would care for you when you are sick or old? Which expectations are considered reasonable?

We tend to draw conclusions and make assumptions based on a person's profession or religion. If you meet a religious person, you may unknowingly expect that they behave in a more humane manner.  Recently, when I was sick, someone shared with me that  we should fend for ourselves and not expect help, unless it is from spouse or family.  It was an eye opener for me because that was not how I view life.  Whatever it is, I take it as a learning experience. This experience taught me a lesson about how different our individual perceptions can be  and to be very careful about expectations.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Scenes from Mundgod

Monks leaving after attending teachings
Out shopping at the refugee settlement
Milk tea with roasted rice served Bhutanese style

Tibetan Medicine Centre

My typical breakfast
Sitting with the locals on the last dayof teachings

Ice cream from Norbu's. Very good, cheap and creamy.

Gaden Monastery, the first venue of teachings

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Bye Mundgod, Hello Bangalore!

The teachings ended on Tuesday, yesterday was an off day for us. This morning, we attended prayers  at another section of Drepung Monastery. We sat outside with the locals. During teachings, we were served tea twice a day. The morning tea is usually Tibetan butter tea or po cha, a salty milk tea with some butter in it. It is said to be an acquired taste but I love it. Morning tea is accompanied with a huge chunk of bread (our kopitiam style type of bread). Afternoon tea is sweet milk tea. Lunch is also available, served to the masses, usually saffron rice or Tibetan bread with dhall.

I  will head for the town of for Hubli by car, to catch an evening flight to Bangalore. After a night's stay, I will fly back to Kuala Lumpur. I am leaving earlier than the rest of my friends due to work commitments. The end of the year is coming, much work needs to be done in the office. As is usual in many situations, I have some mixed feelings. I can't wait to be back home to see my family but I also treasure this experience. It was definitely an experience out of my normal comfort zone and it is good for me.

It is two totally different worlds, here and in Kuala Lumpur. A simple  life versus a modern and materialistic life. I can understand why some people have left their homelands to spend most of their time here, on spiritual practice. I met two male Westerners during the teachings, a Swiss and a Scotsman. We sat together for 6 days. They have been spending the last 8 to 10 years here in India, attending teachings. When their visa expires, they leave and come back in two months after renewing their visa.  

I don't know what impact this experience will have on my life just yet. I know I want to achieve a  harmonious balance of spiritual, family and work. Every once in awhile, I get derailed but I know I need to get back in balance a bit faster.  I also have to be more focused. To quote Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits of Success, Begin with the End in Mind.

" If you don't make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default. It's about connecting again with your own uniqueness and then defining the personal, moral, and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself. Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen."

Monday, 10 December 2012

More Stories from Mundgod

I came for this teaching with a group of people I had never met prior to this trip (who are my friends now). The only person I knew then was Chang's former doctor (for intravenous Vitamin C therapy) whom I met once. Because I was slow in making my decision to travel to Mundgod, I contacted him. His group had not submitted the PAP (Protective Area Permit) applications yet so I could submit my application together with them. They made all the travel arrangements for me including my visa application. I just had to turn up at the airport on the day of departure.

I am sharing a room with two ladies. The facilities are good and clean. We get hot water baths through the solar heating system. We also get to do our laundry here. Meals are fully provided for and cooked by monks. The variety can be slightly limited. However, I have no complaints. I am happy just to get my meals hot when I need them. Anyway, I hardly had any appetite for food when I was sick. I ate plain porridge and soup  for breakfast and lunch. The monks specially planted vegetables in the garden in preparation for our stay.

My group as well as the people I have met here are seasoned practitioners. They are very committed and focused. All have travelled far, some travelling for two days just to get here. What is it that they have found? What is it that I am looking for in spiritual practice? I think it is to help myself, understand my mind  and  learn ways to transform for the better. My hopes for the world starts with me, taking the first step. After all, I cannot change my boss or my parents, my husband or daughter. But I can change me. It is not easy and takes time but it is worth striving for.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Stories from Mundgod

I am still not well, having a sore throat and cough. The Mundgod area is polluted and dusty. It is a common sight to see locals walking around wearing cloth masks around their noses and mouths.. It was something I was not aware of so I spent the first few days here walking around bare faced. As this area is basically a Tibetan refugee camp, it is a protected area.  Foreigners are not allowed in without a permit. For the purpose of the teachings, we had to apply for the Protected Area Permit (PAP) a few months in advance. Anyone without a permit can be deported and fined.

Life here is very basic. Many of the males are monks, from the young to old. Before and after the teachings, the area is  a sea of red robes. Spirituality is an important part of their lives. Adults chant as they walk around. I am into Day 8 of the teachings. Teachings go on as usual on Saturdays and Sundays. I must admit I feel extra tired because of the flu.

 I took quite a long period of leave from work to come here.  I  attend to work issues  now and then when I have access to the internet. I  made the decision to to set aside time in my life to do something which has been in my heart and brings me meaning. I love to learn and this is another learning experience in my life. I realise with each step that I have taken,  I have to look a bit deeper into myself.

I have always wanted to spend a period of  time on spiritual pursuits in India. So here I am. I give thanks to the people who made this possible, the group I travel with as well as my family. And, I am very grateful for the blessings I have received.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

H.H. Dalai Lama's Teachings

I am in Mundgod, India for H.H. Dalai Lama's Jangchup Lamrim teachings. The teachings, are held in Gaden Monastery and Drepung Monastery, located in the Doeguling Tibetan Settlement in Mundgod, in the North Kanara district of Karnataka State, South India, approximately 400km north of Bangalore (Bengaluru) and 600km south of Mumbai (Bombay). The nearest large city is Hubli, which is approximately 45km north.

The Doeguling Tibetan Settlement in Mundgod is one of the largest Tibetan refugee settlements in India, with a current population of approximately 13,400. The settlement consists of eleven camps and includes seven monasteries, twenty schools (from nursery to secondary), two homes for the elderly, several modern allopathic hospitals, a Tibetan Medical and Astro Institute, and a co-operative society engaged in various activities such as farming and handicrafts.

H.H. Dalai Lama is a person I deeply revere and admire. His Holiness first commitment is "the promotion of human values such as compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self discipline. All human beings are the same. We all want happiness and do not want suffering. Even people who do not believe in religion recognize the importance of these human values in making their lives happier. His Holiness refers to these human values as secular ethics. He remains committed to talk about the importance of these human values and share them with everyone he meets.His second commitment is the promotion of religious harmony and understanding among the world’s major religious traditions. And his third commitment is the Tibetan issue."

There is an estimated 25,000 people attending the teachings, of which 17,000 are monks. I have met foreigners of diverse cultures here, from Costa Rica, Colombia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Taiwan etc. It is a very great privilege to see the Dalai Lama in person as well as listen to his teachings.

I wake up before 5 am, have breakfast at 5.30 am and head for the monastery by 7 am as there are tight security checks. Teachings start latest by 9 am but H.H. Dalai Lama is usually early. We usually finish at about 3 to 4pm with an hour lunch break. His Holiness is having a cough. I have also not been well in the past few days, with a sore throat and fever. My intake of water during the teachings is limited. As everyone is seated on the floor, which is tightly packed with people, walking through creates much inconvenience to everyone. Nevertheless, I am very grateful and thankful to be here to listen to these teachings, which are said to be rare.